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Schooling is a family affair

Published Oct. 6, 2005

There's a twist on the morning routine for parents of some Pinellas County pupils.

While other parents are dropping their kids at school and heading off to work or back home for a second cup of coffee, parents in the Even Start program are having breakfast with their children in the school cafeteria and, afterward, joining them in class.

Even Start parents _ former high school dropouts _ are working to further their own educations and encouraging their children to get a good start in school.

"Basically, Even Start is a family literacy program," said program coordinator Bonnie Cangelosi. "It incorporates four elements _ adult education, early childhood education, parenting skills and PACT time, when parents and children work together."

The program has an enrollment countywide of about 50 families, with the smallest enrollment at the Tarpon Springs center where it is "just getting organized," said Head Start parent involvement coordinator Virginia Brovey.

"We're working to recruit more parents," she said. "What we hear is everybody saying they need babysitters. We can help with that problem."

To be eligible for Even Start, parents must have a child in second grade or younger, Brovey said.

In less than a year, four Even Start parents have successfully completed requirements for their high school equivalency certificates. Others continue to work three days a week, studying basic education courses and improving their job and parenting skills.

Bernadette Goginski, mother of three children and a resident of Pinellas Park, joined Even Start classes at the beginning of the 1993-94 school year.

Goginski has a daughter in a program for pupils with learning disabilities at Lynch Elementary and another daughter in a class for emotionally handicapped pupils at Campbell Park in St. Petersburg.

"I thought it would be real good if I could help them with their school work, so I came back," Goginski said. "I want my children to have a good education."

Goginski attends Even Start classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with her son, Wayne, who is in a pre-kindergarten class at Campbell Park. A typical day includes breakfast with Wayne and other parents and children in the program followed by an hour of Parents And Children Together time.

During PACT time, parents are involved in the same activities as the children _ painting, puppet making, putting puzzles together and working at computers, said Campbell Park pre-kindergarten teacher Christine Figueiredo. "That way the parents know what skills are required to complete an activity and can better evaluate their child's progress," she said.

After PACT, Goginski and adult classmates work with an adult education teacher on developing job skills and preparing for the General Educational Development test.

They also are encouraged to volunteer at the school.

Lisa Jones, whose oldest child is in kindergarten at Campbell Park Elementary in St. Petersburg, started in the program last April at the French Villas-Head Start site in Pinellas Park.

Jones, who has four children and works part time in housekeeping at the Trade Winds Resort on St. Petersburg Beach, took two city buses to get there.

"I caught the first bus at 7:30 a.m. to get to the school at 9:15 a.m.," she said.

Since transferring to Campbell Park, getting to school is not such a problem. The early months were more difficult.

The program works for her, she said, "because you have support time. You have people who are like you and can understand what you're going through.

"I just couldn't see myself sitting home all this time and watching everybody else who had a diploma get the work," she said. "I had to be a role model for my kids."

An extra benefit, Jones said, is that parents in the program always know what their children are doing.

"I know all of my children's teachers and they know where to find me. They know me personally," she said.


Even Start, which celebrates its one-year anniversary this month, integrates pre-kindergarten and adult education classes at 16th Street Middle, Lealman and Campbell Park elementary schools in St. Petersburg, and at the French Villas-Head Start site in Pinellas Park and the Tarpon Springs Head Start center. Registration for summer and fall classes is May 3 through 13 at 16th Street Middle and Lealman and Campbell Park elementary schools. In the north county area, call Bettie Webb at 584-7115 to register. For information countywide about Even Start, call program coordinator Bonnie Cangelosi at 893-2670.